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Jewish views of homosexuality

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This article discusses Jewish views of homosexuality.

Table of contents
1 Homosexuality in the Torah
2 Orthodox Judaism
3 Conservative/Masorti Judaism
4 Reform Judaism
5 Reconstructionist Judaism
6 Homoeroticism in the Bible
7 External links

Homosexuality in the Torah

The Torah (five books of Moses) is the primary source for Jewish views on homosexuality. It states that: "[A man] shall not lie with another man as [one would] with a woman, it is a to'eva" (Leviticus 18:22).

The term to'eva, is usually translated as "abomination". It has also been translated as a "mistaken act" since the Hebrew word to'e means "[making a] mistake", va "[about] it".

The Talmud suggests that this term can be understood as a contraction of the words to'eh hu va meaning he is wandering (from the path of righteousness) by doing this act.

Orthodox Judaism

Sexual intercourse between two men is forbidden by the Torah, as stated above, and is seen as being on the same level as incest and bestiality, and makes it a capital offense. The Torah prohibition of Lo tikrevu legalot ervah ("You shall not come close to another person for the purpose of committing a sexual crime") forbids all other sexual acts which can lead to intercourse, and prescribes the punishment of lashes.

Homosexual acts between women (i.e. lesbianism) were forbidden by the rabbis on the basis of "Do not follow the ways of Egypt where you once lived, nor of Canaan, where I will be bringing you. Do not follow [any] of their customs." (Leviticus 18:3). The oral law (Sifra there, 8:8) mentions that one of those negative "ways", i.e. ingrained characteristics, was the marriage of women to each other, as well as a man to a woman and her daughter. The Talmud follows this view, forbidding lesbianism. Like all Rabbinical prohibitions, violation can incur 39 lashes. Female homosexuality is regarded as less serious than male homosexuality.

Although, under Judaism, it is very difficult to get a conviction that would lead to the prescribed punishment, (and in any case nowadays such cases are not judged), the severity of the punishment indicates the seriousness with which the act is seen.

Someone who has committed a homosexual act is seen to have allowed his desires to get the better of him, will be held accountable by God for his forbidden thoughts or actions. However, if he does teshuva (repentance), i.e. he ceases his forbidden actions, regrets what he has done, apologizes to God, and makes a binding resolution never to repeat those actions, he is seen to be forgiven by God (in a similar manner to the other capital crimes).

In recent years a small but growing number of (mainly Modern Orthodox) rabbis and laypeople have begun re-evaluating homosexuality as a phenomenon, and the Orthodox community's response to homosexual Jews. Until recently it has been assumed that all homosexuals chose to engage in homoseuxal actions in order to spite God (le-hach'is), to be pervese, or out due to mental illness. Due to the small but growing tendency for some Orthodox Jews to engage in research on the sociology and biology of this subject, and the small but growing tendency to engage in conversation with homosexuals themselves, some Orthodox Jews have changed their minds on this issue.

The discussion of this issue has been accelerated since the release of a documentary, "Trembling Before G-d", directed and produced by Sandi Simcha DuBowski, which sympathetically examines the lives of homosexual men and women in the Orthodox Jewish community. (DuBowski is currently producing In the Name of Allah, a film about Islam and homosexuality.)

Still, Ultra-Orthodoxy has shown few signs of changing the traditional view on homosexuality, and generally views the attempts at reform as manipulating halakha for political purposes.

There are no accurate figures on the prevalence of homosexual orientation or behavior in the Orthodox community, but it is to be suspected that a substantial amount of people remain in The Closet.

Conservative/Masorti Judaism

In the Conservative Jewish community, the scholars on the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) makes decisions on Jewish law. In 1992 the CJLS accepted four teshuvot (responsa) on homosexuality; these were used as backing sources for a unified consensus position. The consensus position is that given the current scientific, psychological and biological information on the origin and nature of homosexuality, homosexual relationships can not be judged to be in accord with Halakha (Jewish law). Some of the responsa note that future information on this subject may be sufficient to utilize leniencies and potential legal novellae; therefore the law committee holds the right to re-evaluate this area at a future date.

The "CJLS Consensus Statement of Policy Regarding Homosexual Jews in the Conservative Movement" approved March 25, 1992, reads as follows:

(A) We will not perform commitment ceremonies for gays and lesbians.

(B) We will not knowingly admit avowed homosexuals to our rabbinical and cantorial schools, or the Rabbinical Assembly or Cantors' Assembly. At the same time, we will not instigate witch hunts against those who are already members or students.

(C) Whether homosexuals may function as teachers or youth leaders in our congregations and schools will be left to the Rabbi authorized to make halakhic decisions for a given institution in the Conservative movement. Presumably, in this as in all other matters, the rabbi will make such decisions taking into account the sensitivities of the people of his or her congregation or school. The rabbi's own reading of Jewish law on these issues, informed by the responsa written for the CJLS to date, will also be a determinative factor in these decisions.

(D) Similarly, the rabbi of each Conservative institution, in consultation with its lay leaders, will be intrusted to formulate policies regarding the eligibility of homosexuals for honors within worship and lay leadership positions.

(E) In any case, in accordance with the Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue Resolutions we are hereby affirming gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregations, youth groups, camps and schools.

The Rabbinical Assembly has issued a position paper stating that the Divine image is reflected by every human being, of any sexual orientation, and admits that there is good reason to be concerned about the fact that gay and lesbian Jews have experienced not only the constant threats of physical violence and homophobic rejection, but also the pains of anti-Semitism. They note that homosexuals are members of all Jewish congregations, and that the AIDS crisis has exacerbated the anxiety and suffering of homosexual Jews. In conclusion, the Rabbinical Assembly states :

We, the Rabbinical Assembly, while affirming our tradition's prescription for heterosexuality,
1) Support full civil equality for gays and lesbians in our national life, and
2) Deplore the violence against gays and lesbians in our society, and
3) Reiterate that, as are all Jews, gay men and lesbians are welcome as members in our congregations, and
4) Call upon our synagogues and the arms of our movement to increase our awareness, understanding and concern for our fellow Jews who are gay and lesbian.

Although the official position of the Conservative movement is that homosexual relations are a violation of Jewish law, the movement generally views this violation as no less or more serious that other violations of Jewish law that most of its members may violate, such as spending money on Shabbat (the Sabbath) or eating non-kosher food. As such, there is no logical reason to viwe homosexuality as any different from the behavior of any other Jew that isn't fully observant of Jewish law and tradition As such, the Rabbinical Assembly's Commission on Human Sexuality recommends discussed ways to mainstream homosexual Jews into congregations in the movement's pastoral letter on all aspects of human sexuality: "This Is My Beloved, This Is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations". The Rabbinical Assembly reccomends that:

1. Synagogue groups might meet with gay and lesbian Jews to put a face to this issue and to learn how the synagogue can be more welcoming. The goal would be to sensitize synagogue members to the fact that Jewish gays, lesbians and their families are not an outside group but are part of our own community and should be treated as such.

2. In those instances where synagogues have programs for special constituencies within the congregation, such programs might be created for gay and lesbian Jews and their families as well. So, for example, information about support groups such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and gays (PFLAG) can be disseminated through the synagogue media, and the synagogue might host such a group. Gays and lesbians, though, should generally be integrated into the ongoing activities of the congregation.

3. Synagogue and school educators might include, as part of the curriculum, a section on sexuality, and within this, some material on homosexuality....In such courses it should be made clear that sexual activity, while an important part of everyone's life, is not the whole of it. One consequence of this is that Jewish homosexuals, like Jewish heterosexuals, should not be seen narrowly as people who engage in certain kinds of sexual practices, but rather as people and Jews, with the full range of interactions that people and Jews have with each other.

4. Conservative synagogues, individually, regionally and nationally, might organize social action programs to advance the civil protections of gays and lesbians.

Reform Judaism

The American Reform Judaism movement has rejected the traditional view in all areas relating to this issue; they view all restrictions on homosexualiy as null and void. As such, they do not prohibit ordination of homosexual Jews as rabbis and cantors. Because many Reform Jews do not consider the divine authorship of the Torah to be literally true, the passages that pertain to homosexuality are seen as a product of the times. The law is sometimes seen to be referring to homosexual prostitution, making it a stand against Jews adopting the idolatrous fertility cults and practices of the neighbouring Canaanite nations rather than a blanket condemnation of personal behaviour. Reform authorities consider that, in light of what is seen as current scientific evidence about the nature of homosexuality as a biological sexual orientation, a reinterpretation of the law is required.

In the late 1980s the primary seminary of the Reform movement, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, changed its admission requirements to allow homosexuals to join the student body. In 1990 Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) officially endorsed a report of their commiitee on homsexuality and rabbis. They concluded that "all rabbis, regardless of sexual orientation, be accorded the opportunity to fulfill the sacred vocation that they have chosen" and that "all Jews are religiously equal regardless of their sexual orientation."

In 1996 CCAR passed a reloution to "support the right of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage." However, this same resoltion made a distinction between civil marriages and religious marriages; this resolution thus stated:

However we may understand homosexuality, whether as an illness, as a genetically based dysfunction or as a sexual preference and lifestyle - we cannot accommodate the relationship of two homosexuals as a "marriage" within the context of Judaism, for none of the elements of qiddushin (sanctification) normally associated with marriage can be invoked for this relationship.

In 1998, an ad hoc CCAR committee on Human Sexuality issues its majority report (11 to 1, 1 abstention) which stated that the holiness within a Jewish marrige "may be present in committed same gender relationships between two Jews and that these relationships can serve as the foundation of stable Jewish families, thus adding strength to the Jewish community." The report called for CCAR to support rabbis in officiating at homosexual marriages.

In March 2000 CCAR issued a new resolution stating that "We do hereby resolve that, that the relationship of a Jewish, same gender couple is worthy of affirmation through appropriate Jewish ritual, and further resolved, that we recognize the diversity of opinions within our ranks on this issue. We support the decision of those who choose to officiate at rituals of union for same-gender couples, and we support the decision of those who do not."

Reconstructionist Judaism

The Reconstructionist movement has rejected the traditional view in all areas relating to this issue; they view all restrictions on homosexualiy as null and void. As such, they ordain homosexual Jews as rabbis and cantors. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (RRA) permits Jewish homosexual marriages and homosexual intermarriages.

Homoeroticism in the Bible

Despite the traditional Jewish outlook on homosexuality, many have speculated that particularly the relationship between David and Jonathan might have been homosexual. An example is: "Very pleasant has thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of woman" (II Samuel 1:26). Nevertheless, there is no mention of sexual contact, and they might simply have been employing similar idiom to describe their friendship.

External links